Supreme Court orders restoration of case against IAS officer
Posted September 19, 2011on:
A recent Supreme Court verdict has put a question mark on the efficacy of the Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta Organisation as the watchdog against corruption. The apex court has ordered resumption of proceedings under the Prevention of Corruption Act against 1982 batch IAS officer Raghav Chandra, who is at present serving as Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Surface Transport, and others.
The case relates to the early 2000’s when Raghav Chandra was the Commissioner of MP Housing Board. Under his direction, the Housing Board had purchased land from a private party for construction of houses at Katni. The transaction, done in a highhanded manner, had resulted in a loss to the government to the tune of crores of rupees. Katni Collector Shahjad Khan and Ram Meshram, who was posted as the Land Acquisition Officer in the MP Housing Board, were Chandra’s main accomplices.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had, in his report for the year ending March 2009, observed that Raghav Chandra’s inexorable and faulty decision to purchase the disputed land had cost the exchequer Rs 6.72 crore.
The case, which has gone through many vicissitudes, was briefly like this: Raghav Chandra entered into a conspiracy with B D Gautam, director of Olphert Company, and purchased the land belonging to the Olphert Company at higher rates for the MP Housing Board and, thus, caused financial loss to the government. It was done hurriedly, without giving enough time for filing objections.
The land was disputed as its ownership was under litigation in which the State was also a party, according to Collector Shahjad Khan’s communication to the Housing Board Commissioner. Raghav Chandra purchased the land at the rate of Rs 10 lakh per acre whereas the Collector had intimated to him the rate of the land was Rs 3 lakh per acre. Then something happened and the same Collector wrote to Raghav Chandra saying that the rate of the land was Rs 10 lakh per acre. The Collector’s communications form part of the court records.
A complaint was made to the Lokayukta. While the Lokayukta Organisation was investigating it, developments regarding this matter were taking place at different levels. The government sought a report from R R Gangarekar, who succeeded Shahjad Khan as Collector of Katni. A P Shrivastava, secretary in the housing and environment department, was deputed to conduct an inquiry into the transaction. Several cases were filed by different people in the Madhya Pradesh High Court as well as in a Katni court.
More relevant is a direction of the High Court to the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the State government. After hearing the two sides on a public interest litigation (PIL), a division bench directed in September 2005 the EOW to inquire and report, among other things, on the following issues: full facts of transaction at the time of agreement and what was the price of land at the time of execution of agreement.
Sushovan Banerjee, Deputy Inspector General of Police at the EOW, communicated to the general administration department (GAD) of the State government in December 2007 that the EOW had not registered any separate case in the matter but had only investigated on the points referred to by the High Court. The EOW had found nine persons including Raghav Chandra prima facie guilty of the offence; a report was accordingly submitted to the High Court on June 2, 2006.
Besides, Banerjee pointed out, the EOW had registered an FIR on March 20, 2005 against Raghav Chandra in connection with the following transactions: illegal sale of plots at MIG Lines near Indore as well as in other towns.
The Lokayukta Organisation had, meanwhile, completed its investigation, found nothing wrong in the transaction and submitted the closure report in the court of Additional Session Judge (Katni) R K Soni, who was the designated judge for hearing the Lokayukta cases. Soni went through the facts of the case carefully and rejected the Lokayukta’s closure report.
(It was unlike R P S Chauhan, special judge in Bhopal, who had readily accepted the Lokayukta’s closure report in the ‘dumper scam’ against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and his wife Sadhna Singh Chauhan and dismissed the case on the most ridiculous grounds, as already reported in these columns).
Judge Soni found in his verdict of April 26, 2005 that Raghav Chandra, Katni Collector Shahjad Khan and Ram Meshram (Land Acquisition Officer) had committed the offence under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 120-B of IPC. He directed the Lokayukta Organisation to write (to the government) for sanction (as it is required under the Prevention of Corruption Act) for their prosecution.
The High Court quashed special judge R K Soni’s order of April 26, 2005 on the ground that the order of the special judge “is illegal and without jurisdiction.”
The High Court judgement was challenged in the Supreme Court by Arun Kumar Aggarwal, one of the aggrieved parties. A division bench of the apex court comprising justices G S Singhvi and H L Dattu set aside on September 2 the judgement of the High Court and restored the order of the special judge of Katni dated April 26, 2005. The 19-page verdict of the Supreme Court says: “we direct the respondents (State of Madhya Pradesh and others) to comply with the order passed by the trial court within two months from this date.”
The Madhya Pradesh High Court has of late been indulgent to IAS officers. It had earlier quashed with an alarming speed the FIR against high-profile IAS officer S R Mohanty in the Rs 700-crore ICD scam. That, too, was set aside by the Supreme Court and the EOW, which was the investigating agency, was directed to file the challan within three months. The EOW has been waiting for the government sanction for nearly six months. Now it is to be seen how long Shivraj Singh Chauhan takes in the case of Raghav Chandra!